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Standing cup and cover

Traditionally (if incorrectly) described as ‘pineapple cups’, these silver or silver-gilt standing cups with ovoid bodies and inter-locking covers embossed with imbricated lobes are, in fact, supposed to represent a bunch of grapes, and hence the German name: Traubenpokale or ‘grape cups’. Many include wine-related imagery, such as stems with vines and grape-holding or axe-wielding vintners (as seen here) or stems formed as Bacchus, Roman god of wine. Invented in Southern Germany in the late fifteenth century, they became characteristic products of Nuremberg silversmiths in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, made to a standard formula but in different sizes. They were also popular in England: an example in the V&A bears London hallmarks for 1608/9, indicating that it was either imported from Germany and marked on arrival, or made by a London-based German silversmith.

Given the costly materials, skill and time required in their manufacture, Traubenpokale were expensive luxury items. The largest (intended primarily for display) were commissioned by wealthy corporations and individuals and either given away as diplomatic gifts or presentation cups, or retained as ‘welcome cups’ for wine, offered on arrival to important guests. Smaller examples were bought by the middle classes for personal use. The present example has the marks of Nuremberg and the silversmith Franz Fischer or Vischer (active 1600–53). The inscription ‘HERMEN FISSING[E]R ANNO 1618’ engraved on the underside of the foot presumably records the name of its original owner and the year of acquisition. Whether purchased or presented, it was clearly a prized possession. Having entered the Fissinger family treasury, it was kept as a cherished heirloom, which explains why it was not melted down – the fate of so much early modern German domestic silver.